Wednesday, January 09, 2008

How the GOP Benefited and Continues to Benefit From Lincoln's Assassination

The South had more to gain with a live Lincoln than a dead one. Lincoln's "re-construction" built around an economic rehabilitation of the South. Typically, the GOP plan was punitive, harsh, and long. Northern, "radical Republicans" benefited from Lincoln's murder. Disillusioned, embittered Southerners like John Wilkes Booth did not.

The "official" theory paints a vivid picture of Booth and his accomplices --disillusioned Southern racists out to wreak revenge on Lincoln. Booth had wanted to kidnap Lincoln and exchange him for Southern POWs but favored killing Lincoln when his original plan fell apart. But this theory forgets that Lincoln's plan of reconstruction was more lenient toward Southern states. Northern, "Radical Republicans", sought to punish the South and exact retribution, insisting upon stringent requirements for re-entry into the union. Clearly, a southern "patriot" had nothing to gain by murdering Lincoln.

Every mystery writer and criminologist will tell that you every crime has three elements: motive, method, and opportunity. Qui bono? addresses the issue of "motive". Who but Northern Republicans benefited from Lincoln's death? The South most certainly was much worse off for Lincoln's murder and Booth most certainly would have known that. So --why would a "Southern Patriot" enter into a conspiracy which would undermine the Southern cause?

Like today, the Radical Republicans were "politically motivated". A rapid return to congress of Southern anti-industrialists would have diluted GOP strength in the Congress, a fact motivating the length and severity of the GOP plan. Nor was the GOP interested in protecting Freedman's Rights. As is true today, the GOP was primarily concerned with retaining its power in Congress and the economic power of its industrialist constituency. In retrospect, the GOP plan seems guaranteed to continue GOP control of Congress and, in fact, did so for the duration of a punitive "reconstruction".

Secondly, the longer reconstruction plan would, in fact, allow the GOP the time it needed to consolidate its power. Most Republicans believed that Lincoln's V.P., Andrew Johnson, would go along with their plans. They were disappointed and eventually impeached Johnson upon the flimsiest of cases.

It was when Johnson fired Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton that the GOP moved against him. Stanton had been Attorney General in the James Buchanan administration but Buchanan ignored Stanton's advice that he act forcefully against the South; Stanton then became a spy for the GOP!

And it is Stanton who figures prominently in one of the most interesting and most recent of the Lincoln assassination conspiracy theories:
It alleged that Stanton was against Lincoln's mild Reconstruction policies and wanted him out of office so more radical Re-constructionist policy could be employed. On the day of the assassination Ulysses S. Grant was expected to attend Our American Cousin with the Lincolns. Eisenschiml argued that had Grant attended, the military guards who protected him would never have allowed Booth to enter the State Box at Ford's Theatre. Eisenschiml further argued that Grant's refusal of the Lincolns' theater invitation was due to an order by Stanton to change his plans for the evening.

--From a summary of Otto Eisenschiml's Why Was Lincoln Murdered, 1937

Stanton and Grant most probably had "foreknowledge" that Lincoln would be murdered.

To be fair, some aspects of reconstruction have had good and lasting effect, specifically, the 13th and 14th Amendments. Neither would have come about had not the South endured the longer and often tragic consequences of reconstruction.

But as those developments might recommend the longer reconstruction period, a radicalized south would resort to "terrorist" methods to keep GOP office seekers out of office. The Ku Klux Klan's program of racist, voter intimidation continued well into the 20th Century and, in some instances, continues to this day.
Resentment stemming from the Civil War and the Republican Party’s policy of Reconstruction kept Southern whites in the Democratic Party, but the Republicans could still compete in the Southern States with a coalition of blacks and highland whites. After the North agreed to withdraw federal troops under the Compromise of 1877, and the further failure of the "Force Bill" (to protect black voting) in 1890, Southern blacks, the base of Republicans' power in that region, became increasingly disenfranchised. The white Democratic Party in the South enacted Jim Crow Laws and, through the terror of vigilantes and the Ku Klux Klan, undertook other measures to ensure and enforce black disenfranchisement. As blacks lost their vote, the Republican Party lost its ability to effectively compete.


Just recently, by historical standards, the two parties would flip. Again --this Machiavellian strategy, this "Southern Strategy, was of GOP origin. Though he must certainly regret it today, it was Kevin Phillips who urged it upon Richard Nixon.
From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don't need any more than that... but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That's where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats. --Kevin Phillips
A recent summary from The Nation.
Now Republicans were doing the unthinkable: convincing folks they were on their side. Up on a platform erected on the runway, two key architects of the GOP's new Southern strategy, President Nixon and North Carolina's own Jesse Helms, were railing against hippies and atheists and other un-American elements holding down the "silent majority" of white working folk. Mixing pietistic appeals for school prayer and nostalgia for "traditional American values," they were mouthing a neopopulist pitch borrowed from George Wallace's scarily successful 1968 backlash campaign and scripted by Kevin Phillips's The Emerging Republican Majority.

And the blue-collar Democrats were eating it up, roaring approval at every racially coded "law and order" applause line and spitting epithets back and forth with antiwar protesters. All except for my father, who had glanced around forlornly when we arrived and seen a depressing array of crew cuts, work shirts with names on the patches and rebel-flag mesh caps. "Good grief," he muttered. "Looks like a bunch of Democrats. What in the world?"

--The Way Down South, The Nation

Since the Civil War, a "robber baron" class, represented if not ably, crookedly by the GOP, industrialized the nation. This "class" did it by utilizing the apparatus and the method of the GOP --denying for decades the right of workers to organize. To this day, the rich get richer and everyone else is left behind. The enemies of science and intellectual progress have renewed their numerous assaults on learning itself. They wish to roll back the enlightenment.

The right wing has bet its future on a few cynical tactics --the big lie, character assassination, and wedge issues designed to divide and conquer. How the GOP became America's radical reactionary party is a long and winding road. Nevertheless, I am less appalled than surprised to find in the US a level of hatefulness that we dared hope had been laid to rest on the battlefields of the Civil War.

When the Radical Republicans ruled the South, they were despised by the same demographic segments that now embrace the likes of George W. Bush. It was Democrats who had an interest in suppressing Negro suffrage. The Great Grandfathers of Bush's most staunch southern supporters were most certainly Democrats at a time when the GOP was identified with and blamed for the horrors of reconstruction. Under Bush, the GOP now embarks upon new horrors ---endless war abroad, dictatorship at home!

Not surprisingly, the sea change is best associated with the 1960's. It was then that the GOP decided that there were more bigot votes down south than moderate votes elsewhere.

The GOP would battle Democrats for the low ground and win. Today --the likes of Mitt Romeny and Mike Huckabee scrimmage over less than 30 percent of the total population, a 30 percent that Carl Jung would have called "incipient psychotics".

JFK was never forgiven for having put his own party on the right side of morality and history, for eschewing the old bigoted allies, for threatening a Texas sacred cow --the Oil Depletion Allowance. As he promised to smash the CIA into "a thousand pieces", JFK came to embody the ideals of numerous "liberals" assassinated or otherwise dispatched mysteriously concurrent with the rise of the right wing, a crooked GOP specifically!

Certainly, this mentality has proven that it is capable of doing whatever it takes to gain power and keep it. Be prepared for more "surprises" enroute to the upcoming election. Fanatics do not go quietly into that good night and a party that has proven itself capable of both election theft and violence most certainly has more tricks up its sleeve. In a previous essay I had written that "...from the ashes of the 'Old South' rose a mean and prejudiced spirit".

Some additional resources:

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